The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the grass is as green as ever…Spring is here. This is one of the most anticipated weeks on the entire calendar, as players shake off the cob-webs and begin baseball activities once again down in Fort Myers. Pitchers and catchers reported last weekend and tomorrow, all position players are scheduled to report. Most players are already getting some work in at the training complex in Florida, gearing up for what is certain to be an exciting year for the Boston Red Sox franchise. Most people believe this team could be one of the best in a long time for the Sox, but there are still a whole host of questions and story lines surrounding this group of players. Let’s take a look at some of the big headlines in this week’s Red Sox Notebook.
David Ortiz Contract Distraction
The 34-year old David Ortiz arrived in camp this week determined to not let contract-talks, or lack there-of, effect his play on the field like it has in the past. He knows about his recent April struggles and addressed that issue to the media. “I think all I need to do is not think about it. Walking into the season, sometimes you hear everybody talking about your start and you put more pressure than normal on the beginning of the season.” Papi hit .143 in March/April last season in 16 games with 1 home run and 4 RBIs, so he is hoping to avoid that early-season slump in 2011. Given his past struggles, it will be even more difficult for him if he starts slow, because the media will jump on him day 2 or 3 if he hasn’t begun to get going yet, fairly or unfairly.
Ortiz addressed his age as an issue as well. “Every year is a challenge because you don’t get any younger. I don’t feel I’m [Jose] Iglesias’ age  right now, you know what I’m saying? That doesn’t mean you got to be out of the game just because you’re not 20 anymore. Through the years, you get experience. The thing you’ve got to worry about is to get to know your body, what your body is capable of doing, maintain yourself, try to stay healthy and use your experience.’’ At age 34, many people are concerned he is on the decline and his numbers will only continue to digress over the next few years. Ortiz obviously wants to prove his health and ability, even in his mid-30s.
Adrian Gonzalez: Health and Contract Talks
The addition of Adrian Gonzalez this off-season was one of the biggest story lines in baseball, but his health was still in question. After having shoulder surgery in the fall, Gonzo has been working hard to rehab and get back to full-strength, so when he reported in Spring this week, all the attention was on his health. The best words out of Gonzo’s mouth this week were on Thursday when he said, “Zero discomforts, zero limitations.” For official clearance, Gonzo is going to travel to Port St. Lucie, FL to see Dr. David Altchek sometime over the next week to be sure he won’t do any damage to his shoulder when he begins swinging a bat for the 1st time. According to him, he wouldn’t normally swing a bat until this time in Spring anyway, so he isn’t really behind schedule and may still be ready for Opening Day.
In terms of contract talks, both Gonzo and Theo Epstein have addressed the issue and are both confident it will happen in time. Both sides mentioned that they have agreed on the basic outline of a deal and will resume talks when the time is right. Gonzo made it clear that Pujol’s contract talks with the St. Louis Cardinals will have no impact on the money and years he expects, because in his words, “I feel he’s the best player in the game. You can’t compare yourself to him.’’ Given the prospects the Red Sox gave up for Gonzo, you can guarantee they are going to try and lock him up long term as soon as they feel it is possible (obviously after the start of the regular season).
Jose Iglesias and his Father’s Surprise
The heart-warming Spring story award so far goes to Jose Iglesias and his father, Candelario. Since signing with the Red Sox, Iglesias’ father has not seen his son play live, because he has been in Cuba with his family. The plan this season, was for Candelario to stay with Jose during the season, giving him the opportunity to spend time with his son and watch him play the game he loves. The surprise this Spring was Candelario’s early arrival, a month ahead of schedule, to see his son in Spring Training. Jose just turned 21, so he was separated from his parents at a very young age, making his transition to the U.S. and the Red Sox even more difficult. Iglesias has a bright future ahead and now he has his family not only behind him, but next to him along the way.
Mike Cameron Recruiting
As reported by ESPN.com on Thursday morning, Mike Cameron played a pivotal role in bringing Carl Crawford to Boston in 2011 and beyond. For more information, check out my article on Cameron as a true recruiter and team player. What does Cameron think Crawford brings to the table? “Carl? Sheeee, about damn near 200 million dollars. You’ve seen him enough. You know what he brings to the table. He adds another element to the ball club. He adds more juice — I guess I shouldn’t use that word — he adds a great element to the club because he is able do everything. There’s not one way the guy can’t beat you.’’
Flying under the radar this Spring, Daisuke Matsuzaka is looking to have a strong year for the Sox. He has been inconsistent throughout his time in Boston, making most fans question his enormous contract. Until now, I wasn’t sure he understood how far below expectations he has been, but he said, through a translator, “In the past four years, he says he has had good times and bad years as well. He would like to use that four years of experience for a better performance this year.” Dice-K is an X-factor in the starting rotation this season. If he can perform at a high-level and begin to show signs of his top-tier stuff, then this Sox rotation could be one of the best rotations in baseball. If not, he will just be an extremely overpaid 5th starter.
William Abreu 50-Game Suspension
William Abreu, Red Sox system pitcher, was suspended for 50-games by the MLB this week for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug, Nandrolone. I’m not going to rant again, so for my thoughts on the suspension, check out my post from earlier this week.
Other MLB News:
- The big story of the week surrounded the contract-talks between the St. Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols. Pujols set a deadline of Wednesday for talks and once that time passed, he said that no negotiation will happen during the season, because it will distract from the play on the field. We’ll see if that actually happens, but it opens up the option for Pujols to find another suitor next off-season. He wants to remain with the Cardinals, but time will tell.
- The other big story of the week was Miguel Cabrera‘s DUI in Florida. The Detroit Tiger 1st baseman has a history of alcoholism and received treatment a year ago, but apparently had a relapse. His future is uncertain at this point, but in my opinion, he needs to address his personal issues before returning to baseball. Keep an eye out for more from me on alcoholism and drug use in baseball. It is a very real issue that needs to be addressed.
- Manny Ramirez told reporters at Spring Training with the Tampa Bay Rays that he will be playing the 2011 season with a chip on his shoulder, wanting to prove to the world that he is still a feared hitter in the majors. If he returns anywhere near his top form, he will be a menace to the Red Sox in head-to-head match-ups.